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FU-BEST 9b: Tragedy and New Beginnings in German Philosophy: From Marx and Nietzsche to Habermas (Spring only)

InstructorDr. Detlef von Daniels
Credit Points5 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits

Spring semester only


Philosophy has constituted a central element in the development of modern German culture. In the late eighteenth century, German philosophy participated in the broader European Enlightenment culture, which has in turn been connected to the development of modern empirical science. Under the impression of the historical changes brought about by the French Revolution and by the ‘Industrial Revolution’ in Great Britain, a special constellation of German philosophy emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, which has deeply left its mark on subsequent philosophical thinking far beyond Germany.

The two Philosophy courses offered by the FU-BEST program address the historical reality of German philosophy in two chronological parts: in the first part (FU-BEST 9a), offered during the Fall semester, we follow the emergence and full deployment of German philosophy from its Kantian beginnings to Hegel’s grand but fragile synthesis (and its critique by the Young Hegelians as well as by the late Schelling), trying to understand its richness as well as its limitations. In the second part (FU-BEST 9b), offered during the Spring semester, we discuss the later development of German philosophy in the nineteenth century and its historical tragedy in the twentieth century. This will include a discussion of the links between Marx and Marxism, between Nietzsche and the German political/ideological right-wing, between the ‘Vienna circle’ and the scientific revolution of the early twentieth century, as well as between German academic philosophy and Nazism.

The course has a tripartite structure, which is loosely modeled on Heribert Boeder’s account in his Das Vernunftgefüge der Moderne (Freiburg 1988). We start by acknowledging that, after Hegel, philosophy has no longer been pursued as a unified whole but as a reflection on specific strands of thinking. A first strand of reflecting the ‘essence’ of human being runs from Karl Marx (The Work of Human Being) over Friedrich Nietzsche (The Values of Human Being) to Martin Heidegger (The World of Human Being), a second strand of reflecting the sciences starts with Gottlob Frege (The Language of the Sciences), goes on to Moritz Schlick (The World of the Sciences) and ends with Michael Polanyi (The History of the Sciences). The third strand reflects the interpreted life, starting with Wilhelm Dilthey (The History of Interpreted Life), continuing with Edmund Husserl (The World of Interpreted Life) and concluding with Ludwig Wittgenstein (The Language of Interpreted Life). These three strands with their interconnections reveal a unity of philosophy that differs from the common but unhelpful distinction between ‘continental’ and ‘analytic’ approaches. Thinkers of all three strands proclaimed to end philosophy. However, like all arts and sciences in Germany, philosophy took part in paving the way for totalitarian ideologies and thus has to consider its role in the ‘immoral end’ of the 20th century. We will conclude the course with a more confident outlook. Like a phoenix from the ashes, philosophy has risen again in an unexpected form. The whole two-semester course starts with Martin Luther as an ancestor of the enlightenment and ends with Jürgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger, who in their late dialogue nearly come to an agreement.

Please note: these two Philosophy courses can be taken either together, in a two-semester sequence, or separately and individually.